According to one estimate, there will be close to 50 high-school football programs in Arizona that will have new head coaches this season. That’s about 20 percent of the entire prep coaching fraternity in the state.
But there are a couple of other sports that are also undergoing some significant changes.
Perhaps the most significant hires in football are at Poston Butte High School in Florence, where Paul Moro takes over a struggling program that lost its final six games last year, and at North High in Phoenix, which last month named Bernie Busken to take over its stagnated program.
Moro’s hire at the Division II school in the San Tan Valley will likely be the most closely-watched because of the high profile he built at Blue Ridge High School in Lakeside while taking that program to 13 state titles during his 30 years running the show. The 62-year-old coaching legend won 319 games during his time there, which is more than any high-school football coach at one school in state history.
He takes over a program that went 3-7 overall last season and was winless in section play. The year prior to that, it was 5-5 and one section win.
The other big splash in the off-season came out of left field when North made the surprising announcement of the hire of Busken, who had seemingly ‘retired’ after four years at Basha High School in Chandler, where he finished with a 31-16 record. But his seven years at Mesa’s Mountain View High School is where he built his reputation as one of the top coaches in the state. He won three state championships, set a 5A record by winning 40 games in a row, and put together an incredible overall record of 82-9.
North will be a challenge, by anybody’s standards. The Mustangs are coming off a season of just two wins – both against win-less teams – and have had just one winning season in almost a decade. Busken will be the fourth head coach since the program began sliding in the mid-2000s.
But there’s also a coaching change in football that isn’t as high-profile, but that could make a big impact. Williams Field High School, a Division III program in Gilbert, just added John Sanders as its freshman coach who will also work with the varsity program, coaching safeties. Sanders, you may recall, won four state titles in five years as the head coach at Saguaro High in Scottsdale. His influence on the Williams Field program could be significant.
There are a couple of other coaching moves outside of football that are noteworthy as well.
For the first time in a decade, Catalina Foothills High School in Tucson will be without the head coach that brought the school seven girls’ soccer state titles and dominated the sport the past four years. Their loss in the last Division II state championship game against Verrado High was the first time since 2010 they failed to bring home the title.
But, after 249 wins, Charlie Kendrick is moving back into club soccer full-time, taking over player development for the Tucson Soccer Academy.
One other coaching move has likely flown under the radar this summer, this one in boys’ basketball.
Kurt Keener arrived last year from Michigan to take over the head-coaching job at Desert Mountain High School. After just one season at the Scottsdale high school, after posting a 13-14 record, he resigned his position there to take on the head-coaching job at Gilbert Christian.
Evidently, Keener didn’t find what he was looking for at Desert Mountain. He was unable to continue where his predecessor, Todd Fazio, had left off. The Wolves’ program was coming off three consecutive 20-win seasons under Fazio.
But Gilbert Christian may be a more comfortable fit for Keener after the time he put in with Detroit Country Day, a similar private-school program.
Keener spent 35 years at Country Day and built that program into a Michigan high-school powerhouse. He finished 678-180 and won nine state titles with players like Chris Webber of Fab Five fame and Shane Battier, who gained his recognition first at Duke and then in the NBA.
The long-time coach will likely begin winning big again with the right program. And Gilbert Christian, which has averaged 26 wins a season for the last three years and went undefeated during the 2009-10 season, has the talent and tradition to make that possible.